The anonymous buyer.

So where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in MY head…(With apologies to Peter Sarstead…)

You see, you can’t look at the thoughts that surround the reader when they’re alone inside your book (which, whether you like it or not is at least a lean-to or porte-cochère of your head. Well, your mind. The last person who looked inside my head claimed he could see daylight out of the other ear. I had not the heart to tell him it was an oncoming train… and it’s been lost in there for a week.)

The best you can do is look inside your own head and fondly imagine that there are other heads like that who would want to read your book. Of course that is only true for certain values of ‘like that’. No two people are alike, BUT we’re social animals. We’ve survived by making educated guesses about what is inside the heads of others, and getting right enough times to breed and survive (many men are surprised by this. Women should be. Some are, some may be. Some of them may yet be, because we’re living in changing times.)

Look, here’s the thing: people may be curious enough about your ideas and writing to read about what goes on in your head, projected onto characters. If you give them enough to identify with or care about those characters this becomes a lot easier and more likely. I was reading about, for example, a major award winning movie about a gay romance between a younger male and older one. Now, while one side of the political spectrum was raving about how wonderful and deserving of awards it was because of the issues, and the other was pointing out it would be considered pedophilia in a number of jurisdictions… my own reaction was ‘and why do I care?’ Why would I bother to pay to watch it? I’m not really interested in their ‘world’ or the type of characters portrayed, and to get my attention action or drama or mystery is more likely to give me a reason than ‘a gay romance.’ I’m not gay, and while I enjoy a few romances – they tend to be long on action, history, characters that amuse or attract me, and have great dialogue, or better, repartee.

Now the film may have all the action, history, characters and repartee I’d enjoy. But in ‘selling’ it to the public the focus is on homosexuality and the romance. Oh and awards. That’s supposed to be the dog-whistles to pack the audience in. For a segment of the audience it probably will be.

Yes, that’ll convince ME I have to see it. Oh, but ‘important people’ like celebrities and critics, will call I’m a bigot if I don’t rush to do so… Good-o. If that is what they – or you – want to call me or even believe, I don’t care enough about their or your opinion to pretend I give a damn.

And, at least in private, that’s how a lot of people work. The reading world is VERY private – which is why porn (Hetero, homo and all the alphabet soup, + pianos, dwarves and donkeys.) or ‘erotica’ sell well, especially as e-books. And this, I think is the missing fact which has confounded publishers, booksellers and many authors.

You see, online purchase is anonymous (at least to your friends, acquaintances and coworkers if not FBI, and NSA), No one sees you browse, no one see you at the check out – and the online bookstore doesn’t care about its image and carrying the ‘right books’ and has everything – it doesn’t care if you want ‘Coprophagia made Tasty’ or ‘See Dick and Spot Run’. Delivery is secret, and so is what you do with it… and world inside your head is most private of all. Unless you tell the NSA they won’t know (probably just as well)… and neither will the author.

From this you get a multiple award winning feminist author – who has standing room only at her Con readings and twitter-praise lavished on her man-bashing panels… moaning that if only she sold one copy for every person there. But you see, they’re seen to be there, by people they care about impressing. No-one sees them buy, and they cared far more about being seen than actually reading – which is why you have ‘prestigious’ authors begging on patreon, while authors slated and slandered as useless and bad are buying mountains and farms. And supposedly influential critical sites running fund-raisers and patreon begging – because advertising – once lucrative – just doesn’t pay the bills.

Society’s mirror is largely lost on the internet, and entirely lost when it comes to spending money. More and more customers are getting that. It’s not what the world, or even ‘important’ people think of their choices… because they won’t know what any individual bought. They’ll just know what their income is. That income depends entirely on what the reader derives from the book.

The latter point is what I’m driving at. As a writer who lives by selling you’re trying to guess at least what goes on in people’s heads when they enter your world. Being a good observer and listener will help because that makes your characters less of just a shade of yourself. But of course the only real measure is them buying your book or story, and coming back and buying more. Honestly, it’s the latter that publishers ought to try to measure, to base their decisions on. Advertising or luck (being at the right place at the right time) can boost anything. But if the same customers keep coming back, they like having you in their heads.

The traditional publisher essentially operated on ‘there’s one born every minute.’ Yes, big names and big sellers got favored. But with the noobs and midlist – well, it wasn’t the customer that was important – but pleasing the publisher. Series were supposed to lose readers with every book – and that was acceptable and normal. Return custom hasn’t been a factor with some – particularly erotica, and cheapies – indies either. But I believe that will change – we’re in shakedown now. Customers will become more discerning, names they like and trust, people they want and trust in their heads will attract more sales and a price premium. Not a vast one, but some.

So just how do you tell that you’re getting returnees? (You obviously attract them by being fairly consistent.) Well, you start by a steady increase in sales within a series (especially if the first becomes free or cheap). You also start seeing the comments ‘I’m a fan/regular reader of so-and-so and I love this book’. You get increasing sign-ups for newsletter.

If you’re seeing growth you’re winning – inside their heads. If you’re seeing awards and critical acclaim but losing sales and needing patreon to survive… you’re not.



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51 responses to “The anonymous buyer.

  1. paladin3001

    Awards? Yeah they look shiny on top of the mantle. I prefer the award of being able to buy that mountain or piece of property honestly. 🙂
    Guess I think I prefer to write a story that I would read. And since I read a fair amount of authors that put out stories that I read I am going the right way.

  2. The analogy of the reader as a guest in your home is a good one. A while back I wrote a review of some current television shows, and my critique boiled down to the writers didn’t act like they knew they had company coming.

    When I first meet a character I don’t want to walk in on him drinking beer and watching The Price Is Right in his underwear. Save the messy bits of the narrative for when we know each other better. Instead, show me why this guy is worth getting to know.

    It’s the same with your setting. If you’re showing a visitor around your hometown you don’t start with the bums sleeping by trash fires under the viaduct. Let’s see a park or a shopping district first, the cute downtown area with restored old buildings and charming cobblestone walks.

    There’s this myth in modern fiction that opening with ugliness will someone draw the readers’ sympathies and engage their emotions. I think it’s more likely to drive them away.

    • Zsuzsa

      “There’s this myth in modern fiction that opening with ugliness will someone draw the readers’ sympathies and engage their emotions.”

      Indeed. And in many of the books I’ve seen, it also extends to ending with the ugliness and filling the middle with ugliness. If these fictional worlds actually have parks or cute downtowns, they aren’t interested in showing them to any one.

    • Joe in PNG

      It’s the same with your setting. If you’re showing a visitor around your hometown you don’t start with the bums sleeping by trash fires under the viaduct.
      Unless one is PTerry, then Buggerit! Millennium hand and shrimp, I told you!

      • Are you talking about Terry Pratchett? Maybe that’s what I don’t like about him. People keep recommending his books, but I never found one that held my interest long enough to finish reading it.

        • Joe in PNG

          Yep. Takes all types, of course.

        • Luke

          To my mind, the place to start would be Small Gods, Guards! Guards!, Witches Abroad, or Moving Pictures.

          Small Gods is a standalone, and one of his best. It’s more thoughtful than funny, but still a good blend.

          Guards! Guards! is the first of the Watch series, and IMO, the funniest thing he ever wrote. Unfortunately, the Watch series is his most uneven. It has brilliant ones like this, Feet of Clay, or Snuff. But it also has stinkers like Jingo and The Fifth Elephant.

          Witches Abroad is actually the second book in the Witch series (or third, depending on how you want to count it). But you can pick it up here without missing much in the way of “things that have gone before”. It’s part travelogue, part fairy tale, and part knowing yourself. The series is solid front to back, but Masquerade, and Lords and Ladies stand out from the pack. I admittedly didn’t care for large parts of Carpet Jugulum, but there was one special moment right towards the end of the book that made the book.

          Moving Pictures is another standalone. It’s about the intersection of movie magic with the real thing. It does introduce the Faculty of the Unseen University as supporting characters. They don’t really have their own series per se, but they’re strong supporting characters in many other books, especially with respect to Death series.

          The Death series is almost certainly the strongest series, but you really have to start it at Mort, which may not be to everyone’s tastes, and is the weakest in the series. That said, it was pretty much the book where PTerry went from amusing trope deconstructions, wry asides, and shameless puns, to being a notable powerhouse that had a huge influence on millions of people.

          There’s also the Rincewind series. See also: amusing trope deconstructions, wry asides, and shameless puns. (Although Interesting Times and The Last Hero are notably of stronger stuff.) A coward dies a thousand deaths, a brave man only one. Rincewind is that coward. Much to the frustration of Death (until DEATH became more than a foil, at which point it became amused curiosity, but the banter between them still had an edge).

    • Terry Sanders

      I think many of those writers aren’s inviting you inte their homes. They’re selling tickets to a look through a peephole into the house.of a neighbor they don’t particularly like.

      The audience they’re counting on is a mix of–

      –people who think it’s fun to see other people with their pants down, and–

      –people who like being able to say “See? They’re no better than me.”

  3. The awards circuit has become fully invested in politics to the exclusion of all else. That’s what we can take away from the present Greg Hullender witch-burning.

    Rocket Stack Rank’s reviews, and what they choose for review, are entirely consistent with historical Hugo voting patterns. Putting Hullender on the Locus board was a good call for people who wanted to keep the status quo going. Meaning, make sure none of those filthy Sad Puppy types got a Hugo. Because the Hugo, as noted by the Venerable Correia lo these many years ago, is about progressive politics.

    Dave Truesdale in 2014, Greg Hullender today. Reviews are power. They are being used to reward friends and punish enemies. No one cares about the reader.

    • Zsuzsa

      I think I missed this latest witch hunt. Who is Greg Hullender and what microaggression did he commit?

      • Greg Hullender reviews SF/F short stories. He comments here sometimes.
        While he’s generally been on the anti-Puppy side of things, he’s been more polite about it than most. If I understand right, he recently got into some kerfluffle with militant SJW’s because of the pronouns he used somewhere.

      • A puppy-kicker who failed to clap long and loudly enough for the current winner of SJW victim bingo’s Mary Sue. Nominated for all the prizes and read by an audience at least in double figures. Shrieking and denunciations, and attempts to destroy the target’s reputation, work and livelihood to proclaim loyalty ensue. i.e. Normal SJW crap, which is now being directed at each other, because no-one else is left who cares or is affected. Shrug.

  4. It’s my dirty little secret . . . I read for enjoyment. I often wonder if those who cater to the SWJ authors actually read much of anything.

    • Indeed. One wonders exactly -who- enjoys those deliberately grimdark works so beloved by the awards, and the answer appears to be no one. Hence the winning authors being on Patreon to make ends meet, or just to monetize their fame through another venue because the books aren’t doing it. Progressives view Art as a means to an end. The means is basically punishment, the end is Compliance With The Cause. Lefty “art” is, as we all know to our cost, a beating delivered to the reader. An attack on culture, philosophy, even science that does not conform to The Cause. An assault on the reader’s emotional and mental health, trying to cause pain in the reader so they change themselves to make it stop.

      Which is why nobody buys it.

      Even the virtue signalers aren’t buying the dreck that Hullender is being pilloried for offering an honest review.

      Say what you will about the Mr. Hullender, at least he’s offering an honest review, by his lights. I do not share his aesthetic or his opinion, at all, but he doesn’t lie to get SJW brownie points just because the author is a member of [victim group here].

      That’s why they’re burning him as a witch.

    • When you start actually talking about books to them, you realize rapidly – not much, and certainly nothing at all not ‘approved’.

  5. Lean-to in your head? Bah, I’ve got a whole bloody castle in there!

    [peers in windows]

    But it’s got some mighty odd people living in it… I say, what’s with all the fangs and fur??

  6. Draven

    I believe a Mr. Correia said something close to “Heaping piles of money are their own reward.”

    OR something close to that.

    And if he didn’t, he will at some point.

  7. A lot of college English classes are about analyzing, close reading, and critically reading, to the point that they discourage you from actually reading the darned thing for pleasure, as intended. Grad students are taught to read the critics more than the actual work, and to skim most of the stuff they’re supposed to be reading.*

    So when the SJWs skim until offended or skim until they find a suitably correct quote, they are just doing what they were taught.

    * Obviously there is a time and a place for close reading, analysis, and skimming to find useful content. But that’s not all the time, in every place.

    • tprice

      It starts earlier than that. Summer before i started High School i borrowed a copy of Andromeda Strain by Crichton from a freind while on a 3 week Choir Trip (early 90’s and I could only pack so many paperbacks of my own…) and really enjoyed it. Then a month later i got to High School and the first book they assigned in Advanced English was Andromeda Strain by Crichton… But the teacher sucked all the joy out of the book by trying to find meaning and symbolism in EVERY LITTLE SCENE. One of the teachers main hangups was _EVERY_ book must have a Christ Figure in it somewhere and how that was portrayed by the author was _important_

      • Draven

        yup and then they stand around and complain about how no one is reading

        Now imagine what happens after a couple film theory classes, willya?

        • Joe in PNG

          There’s some books, films, and works of music that are more enjoyable with a bit of knowledge beforehand, and reward an analytical approach.
          “Watchmen”, to use a beloved graphic novel, is filled to the brim with deliberate visual symbolism and subtle commentary.
          And most fans have fun with various theories regarding the universe the work occurs in, ideas about backstories, crossovers, ect.
          But the academic world has to be Oh So Highbrow, and get all academic about everything, which can suck the joy right out.

    • Zsuzsa

      I remember when I was a senior in high school reading an article by a woman who explained that she didn’t read Jane Austen for the plots or the characters but to understand Austen’s view of the proper role of women in society. I turned to my best friend and said, “If I ever start reading to understand the social views of the author, kill me. Clearly I will have reached the point where I’m no longer capable of having joy in my life.”

      My views have changed a bit on that, partly because I no longer value my life so cheaply and partly because I do understand why one might turn to fiction rather than history for social commentary, but the basic premise is more or less the same: read the story for the story. If you can’t do that, you need help.

    • No, it’s not skimming. It’s gutting. You start with the Sources and Bibliography to see what material the author used. Then you read the introduction and the conclusion very carefully, making note of the thesis and the historiography. You read the first and last pages of the chapters very closely. Then you skim the middles of the chapters. It is the only way to get through five or six 450-page monographs a week, as well as teaching, reading five or six academic articles, and writing papers. And you closely read ONE book, at most two per week. Unless you are Alma and don’t have a life, and you close-read three or five per week, plus the above.

      Which probably explains in part the high incidence of mental health problems among grad students.

      • adventuresfantastic

        “Which probably explains in part the high incidence of mental health problems among grad students.”

        This, only in my field it was the 60+ hours a week you were expected to be in the lab or analyzing data.

  8. Re: anonymous readers —

    There’s a new (in English) book out today called The Dictator Pope. It’s a nice synthesis of information about Pope Francis, his curriculum vitae, and his working style, drawing heavily upon information that has been difficult to get in Italian or English, but which was available in Argentina.

    One thing that has been noted has been that several books with information critical of Pope Francis have had a tendency in Italy to disappear quickly from bookstores and to not be reprinted. This book is available on Kindle, which seems to have circumvented the problem.

    So yeah, if you’ve been wondering why the heck Pope Francis seems to be all over the map, and not in a good way… this book seems to be explaining it. Not a happy read, but a reasonably fair and well-sourced one.

    • Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Fran is a Marxist hiding behind God. Think Reverend Wright without the racism, because the Pontiff subscribes to Liberation Theology, which is where Black Liberation Theology comes from. If Catholicism survives several hundred years in the future, he is likely to be remembered with those who were the worst popes to come down the pipe.
      Or would that be UP the pipe?

      • Bear with me on this: That’s not necessarily the case for either one. That’s because political right and left is not the same as theological right and left. As a case in point, I was surprised that Wright’s theological views are almost dead-on Evangelical. That’s easily seen in his interview in The Amateur on his religious opinions on Barack and Michelle Obama. His political opinions, well, that’s pretty well known, but the key thing is that’s something different.

        That may be the case with the current Pope. To evaluate this, compare his doctrinal statements with Roman Catholic doctrine and see if there’s any great difference. If not, he’s a Roman Catholic with Marxist views rather than a Marxist with religious trappings.

        It’s all comes down to how someone thinks is the best way to live their theology. It’s like someone coming up at a church building project and asking for a hand-out. How is the best way to help this person? The suggestions vary from the naive take up a collection and give them the money to the more savvy taking up a collection, then buying what they need and giving that to them. Wright’s political views are what he considers best to deals with ills he sees; the pope’s political views may very well be the same.

        That doesn’t mean we have to agree with their political views, or that their political views are right. Far from it. But while it’s tempting to view someone’s politics as an indicator of their theology, that doesn’t hold true at all.Each is surprisingly independent of the other.

      • WP ate my first reply, but it all comes down to there’s a difference between theologically liberal and politically liberal. It surprised me to find Wright’s doctrine is pretty spot on Evangelic. His opinion of Barack and Michelle Obama in The Amateur illustrates that. Of course, we all know what his political views are, but you wouldn’t have guessed his theology from his politics. In the same way, unless the pope has issued doctrinal statements in opposition to Roman Catholic doctrine, he’s most likely a Roman Catholic with Marxist leanings rather than a Marxist with religious trappings.

        Why it varies from others all comes down to how they think it’s best to live their theology. This does not mean how they chose to live their theology is right or best, but only that they follow that as a means of expressing their theology. It’s like someone coming by needing help, and everyone taking up a collection. The naive will suggest giving him the cash; the more savvy will want to buy him what he needs with the cash and give that to him. Both are efforts to do what’s right, but one has a higher risk of failure.

        • Liberation Theology was brought about a way to get the predominately Catholic people in Latin America/South America to swallow marxist doctrine. Therefore it is very Catholic centric. Someone went with that, bent it towards the Protestant faiths, added racial identity politics to the mix, and came out with Black Liberation Theology. The Pope used LT to get power where he was at (Marxists wanting power? Where’s Sarah’s shocked face?) in Argentina. Getting that got him power in the Church, because S. America, and Latin America are still strongly faithful societies within the Church. He rode that to the Popehood. I recall a recent statement on something that drew ire from a few Bishops and one or two Cardinals. I do recall it wasn’t a change to doctrine, but was a bit outside of what the previous popes positions were (sorry, can’t find it, and really pay little attention to my old church as I pretty much always been an atheist, even while suffering through CCD and Confirmation).

          • While commies no doubt used Liberation Theology to their own ends, I can see where it would be easy to go down that path based on nothing but a desire to be compassionate. That tends to make good pavement to Hades. Quite a number of “progressive” ideas had their roots in good religious intentions.

            My main point is someone can be liberal politically and conservative theologically, and visa versa. The pope can be so far Marxist he shifts to red robes, all while remaining a theological conservative.

            Frankly, I don’t know if he is theologically conservative, but did see some statements the secular left was praising that because they thought it was theologically liberal, but on closer examination they weren’t.

            • Oh, the only reason they would praise him at all is that his LT makes him leftoid economically. But that’s about all they’d note or know, so anything vaguely theologically liberal sounding to them would be held up for praise, whereas if J.P.II or Benedict were to have said it, it’d be dismissed as theocracy supporting.

      • Actually… the thesis of the book is “Papal honeybadger don’t care.” He was always basically interested in moving his way up, in getting people to work for him, and in espousing whatever seems likely to get him support. So he’s just as liberal or conservative as he needs to be at the moment, and he really doesn’t care what he says (except for its effect). The author associates this with Peron’s brand of populism, where it really was about Peron power and not about right or left.

        The book also opines that the problem for him is that he’s basically not a schmoozy guy who enjoys schmoozing, even though he enjoys the results. And he’s not one to trust people, even if he has a person being his total fan. So apparently there’s a pattern of him discarding or exhausting his most faithful followers, preferably without him doing it visibly himself. He also likes to keep people off-balance, which is why his close followers tend to tucker out.

        All of this seems to fit the evidence of his behavior, and make some of the more puzzling things explicable. It’s a flavor of BS that I haven’t dealt with much, but it seems about right. I initially thought he was an old-school schmoozer, but they care what you think and want to change your mind. Honeybadger just wants to make you useful.

        So yeah, Pope Francis could become a capitalist or a libertarian tomorrow, or go as traditionalist as Lefebvre and Fellay. And it still wouldn’t mean anything, and neither would the next thing. On the bright side, though, this means that he’s unlikely to go too far in certain directions… unless he gets the idea that people will go for it.

        Powerseekers do occasionally get to be popes. Some of them do good things; some of them don’t. But then they die, and somebody else becomes pope. Shrug. Hope they enjoy the brief time before they have to report to the Boss for performance evaluation….

        • Doubt he’d spout libertarian or capitalist stances any more than you’d expect Soros to do so because they’d not give him as much power. Especially the libertarian ones.

  9. Luke

    So, you’re saying that I shouldn’t hide song titles in my paragraphs, just because it would amuse me to realize it and hunt them down?

  10. I opened this link more than 12 hours ago, got distracted, and just now read Dave’s post.
    Oh, how I WISH I had read this as soon as I opened it! It would have made all the difference, and changed my life.
    Umm…I made that last part up.
    But it made me think about how I’m a member of a Facebook group for Conservative Libertarian writers, and yet I’ve gone off on a Hemingway tear recently, and he was decidedly left of center politically in his writings (those that addressed any political issues).
    But evidently lots of the other people in that group like his stuff, as well. And that says to me that the market for message fiction will NEVER be greater than the market for good-story fiction, until everything not forbidden is compulsory and we all are required to own (insert name of political book here).